There is no way to get around it — depression sucks. I, like millions of others, have battled with mental health issues for most of my life and have come to terms with the fact that it will always be that way. Some days are better than others and vice versa, but one thing I always tell myself is that I’m not alone in this fight and that family, friends, colleagues, and the various doctors I have visited over the years are more likely than not to have gone through the same exact thing at one point in their lives. Another way I have found to cope is by watching different movies about depression and other issues like anxiety, loneliness, and just about everything else under the sun.
Sometimes turning on a movie that features a character in a fit of self-doubt or dealing with depressing thoughts is enough to hold me over until the storm breaks and I am able to move on in life. Here are 16 movies that handle depression (and other mental health issues) in a thoughtful way..
Charlotte Wells’ directorial debut, Aftersun, spends a week with Calum (Paul Mescal), a 31-year-old single father, as he goes on a trip to a Turkish resort with his young daughter, Sophie (Frankie Corio). The movie centers on Calum as he struggles with a number of different aspects of life, including fatherhood, depression, and his approaching 31st birthday. Meanwhile, his 11-year-old daughter attempts to find her place in the world while also making sense of her father’s depressed state.
Wells leaves things ambiguous with the Aftersun ending, and never outwardly reveals Calum’s fate. However, the subtle and nuanced approach to the story, as well as her handling of depression, is worth noting.
Two friends – struggling writer and wine snob Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) and the soon-to-be-married Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) – embark upon one final hoorah before the latter gets married. Over the course of Alexander Payne’s 2004 Oscar-winning comedy, Sideways, the two friends find themselves tested in a number of ways after they become involved with a pair of friends who don’t know Jack is engaged.
The way that Miles, a teacher who’s still not over his failed marriage and stalled writing career, wears his depression is incredibly honest and genuine, if that makes sense. The way in which Giamatti brings the character to life and shows the various sides of someone living in a downed mental state resonates so well.
The End Of The Tour (2015)
American writer David Foster Wallace, the author of the acclaimed Infinite Jest, committed suicide in September 2008. James Ponsoldt’s 2015 drama film, The End of the Tour, doesn’t center on Wallace’s (Jason Segel) passing (though it is the story’s catalyst), but instead a period of time 12 years earlier when writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) went on a book tour with the late writer.
Over the course of a few days, the pair of writers explore the American landscape, hold insightful conversations, and learn a great deal about each other and themselves in the process. The movie does a masterful job of portraying a successful and well-respected author struggling to deal with depression while also diving into how, despite his fractured state, he impacted so many people.
A Star Is Born (2018)
In 2018, Bradley Cooper directed, co-wrote, and starred in the most recent, and perhaps heaviest, adaptation of A Star Is Born yet. In this version, successful musician yet struggling addict Jackson Maine (Cooper) discovers Ally Maine (Lady Gaga), a talented singer who becomes his protege, muse, and wife on her path to superstardom. Though Ally and her meteoric rise are at the center of the story, A Star Is Born also focuses a great deal on Jackson’s fall from grace as he stumbles through life.
The way the movie touches on the effects of untreated depression may be extreme for some, but it brings the conversation of mental health to the surface, a conversation that oftentimes needs to be had.
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Not long after a bitter breakup, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) learns that his ex-girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) has taken extreme measures to get over the shattered relationship: wiping all memory of Joel and their past from her memory. Distraught and depressed by the news, Joel decides to undergo the same procedure in Michel Gondry’s 2004 transfixing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, letting go is easier said than done as the heartbroken Joel begins to have second thoughts about the process and fights to save the memories (both good and bad) before they’re lost to time in one of the best movies of the 2000s.
Though the movie takes a more sci-fi and fantastical approach to its handling of depression, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind does bring up a good point about depression, in that like the good memories, the bad ones are what make us who we are.
Manchester By The Sea (2016)
Following the death of his brother, grief-stricken loner Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-sea where he discovers he has become the legal guardian of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). The reason behind Lee’s bleak demeanor and departure from his family’s longtime home is not immediately revealed, but when the truth comes out, it is easy to see how someone could fall into a deep, dark abyss of depression. Also while he’s back home, Lee runs into his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), leading to one of the most heartbreaking movie meltdowns in recent memory.
Undoubtedly one of the most emotionally grueling movies on this list, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea doesn’t shy away from devastating topics. Instead, it faces them head-on.
Lost In Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola’s 2003 drama Lost In Translation deals more with chronic loneliness than depression, but since the two go hand-in-hand so often, the movie is more than deserving of a spot here. The Focus Features classic centers on Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a washed up movie star whose career has reached the point where all there is left to do is appear in Japanese commercials and drink at a Tokyo hotel bar. His life is given new meaning when he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), the wife of a famous and distracted photographer. The two unlikely friends strike up an immediate bond as they explore the sights and sounds of Tokyo and begin to learn more about themselves than they would have ever guessed.
Garden State (2004)
Zach Braff’s 2004 directorial debut, Garden State, centers on struggling actor Andrew Largeman (Braff) as he returns to his family home in New Jersey to attend his mother’s funeral. While there, Andrew begins to come to terms with his role in an accident that left his mother confined to a wheelchair decades before her death and his father’s (Ian Holm) decision to put him on various antidepressants and lithium after the accident.
Without giving too much away, there’s a scene near the end of the movie in which Andrew, his love interest Sam (Natalie Portman), and old friend Mark (Peter Sarsgard) visit a man guarding an abandoned quarry and Andrew tells him “Good luck exploring the infinite abyss” and the man responds with “You too.” Nearly two decades later, the weight of those words, as well as that moment, still get me.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ 2006 family road trip movie, Little Miss Sunshine, follows the Hoover family as they drive across the American Southwest so that the youngest member of the group, Olive (Abigail Breslin) can compete in a beauty pageant held in California, but the movie is about so much more than that. Sure, the central conflict that ties everyone together is a road trip in that iconic yellow Volkswagen Microbus, but each family member is dealing with their own personal demons.
Two of the biggest and most thoughtful of these subplots are those of Frank Ginsberg (Steve Carell), who has just been released from a mental hospital after trying to kill himself, and Dwayne Hoover (Paul Dano), who has a rather extreme mental breakdown due to a certain visual impairment. Both of these characters learn to deal with their afflictions and are made better people because of it.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
David O. Russell’s 2012 romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook, tackles a myriad of different topics and mental illnesses as well as how the characters’ conditions affect practically every aspect of their lives. There’s Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a recently divorced Philadelphian dealing with bipolar disorder and all the issues that stem from it, Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a grieving widow still coming to terms with her husband’s death, and Patrizio “Pat” Solitano Sr. (Robert De Niro), Pat’s father whose life is in disarray because of his OCD and gambling addiction. Each of these characters eventually come to terms with their illnesses and the depression that spawns from it in this perfectly-balanced dramedy.
The Skeleton Twins (2014)
Craig Johnson’s 2014 dramedy The Skeleton Twins follows Milo Dean (Bill Hader) and Maggie Dean (Kristen Wiig), a brother and sister who are brought back together after years apart just as each are experiencing their own crises and failed suicide attempts. To better take care of themselves (and one another) the estranged twins begin to confront the people and situations that pushed them over the edge while also coming to terms with their own relationship and how two people who were brought into this world together could drift so far apart. And then, there’s the amazing scene where Milo and Maggie lip-sync “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
Inside Out (2015)
You may be asking yourself “Why is a Pixar movie on a list of movies about depression?” but there’s a good reason for it. Peter Docter’s 2015 emotional, animated feature, Inside Out, takes a look inside the brain of a young girl named Riley whose life is completely upended when she and her parents move from the Midwest to San Francisco. Told mostly through Riley’s emotions (played by an all-star cast including Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, and others) the movie dives into issues ranging from loneliness to the brink of depression when the young girl’s feelings get all out of whack.
One of the best Pixar movies to date, Inside Out is an incredible exploration of human emotion and the human spirit through characters like joy and fear, and how our feelings make us who we are.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012)
Stephen Chbosky’s 2012 coming-of-age drama, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which was based on his book of the same name), tells the story of awkward high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) as he breaks out of his shell and begins to explore all life has to offer after befriending a group of seniors who forever change his life. During all of this, Charlie is battling severe depression brought on by his best friend’s suicide as well as repressed memories from a traumatic childhood event. The film, like the book, also deals with the way in which isolation, loneliness, and an inability to express one’s true feelings can have on the mind and soul of a young teenager.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Charlie Kaufman’s sprawling and mind-bending psychological drama Synecdoche, New York follows down-on-his-luck theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who develops a rather unique and arguably unhealthy coping method after his wife and daughter leave him: construct and produce an elaborate stage production of his life that slowly becomes more and more complicated and blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
This truly bizarre (even for Kaufman’s standards) film is as transfixing as it is convoluted, but it offers a new spin on the idea of a tortured artist finding a way in which he can block out the pain of his own life.
Released in 2011, Lars Von Trier's Melancholia follows two sisters — Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) — as they await their impending doom that will be brought on when a planet crashes into Earth, wiping out all life. On top of that, Justine is in the middle of a severe bout of depression brought on by the failure of her marriage in addition to other issues from throughout her life.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
Bobcat Goldthwait’s (yes, that Bobcat Goldthwait) 2009 dark comedy, World’s Greatest Dad, follows Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) after his son accidentally kills himself during an unorthodox sexual act. In hopes of avoiding the scandal that could potentially come out of the way in which his son died, Lance, who battles severe depression, decides to write a suicide note for his son, a note that channels a lot of the grieving father’s own problems with mental health. However, the situation gets out of hand and Lance becomes an overnight celebrity for being such a strong father all the while batting his own personal demons.
Each of these movies touch on depression in their own way, but hopefully all of them help show you that despite how you may feel at times, everyone goes through something at one point or another.
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Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.